‘Democratic Thinking’ seminar returns for second summer

Twenty professors and staff from colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada returned to Elon University last week for the latest segment of a two-year seminar exploring the complexities of teaching “democratic thinking.”

“Teaching Democratic Thinking,” the first iteration of the Elon Research Seminars on Engaged Undergraduate Learning, is co-sponsored by the Association of American Colleges & Universities and Elon’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

The seminar, which concludes in 2011, is led by Stephen Bloch-Schulman, an associate professor of philosophy at Elon University, and Elizabeth Minnich, a senior scholar at AAC&U, along with a team of three scholars and a community activist from across the country.

The focus of their program this month was on participants devising strategies for implementing and assessing what they acknowledge is a complex topic into curricula.

“Last summer was introducing ourselves to each other, to these questions, and to starting to build relationships,” Bloch-Schulman said. “This summer is about sustainability. How do we continue this work? What does it look like in a year from now?”

The seminar aims to help faculty and staff understand and research the intellectual underpinning of how students learn to ethically engage with the communities they are currently a part of and those they will be a part of in the future.

Seminar participants are enacting their own research projects and campus initiatives, Bloch-Schulman said, and through these, they will examine the nature of democratic thinking and highlight models of good practice.

For example, some are working on their own campuses to infuse questions of democratic thinking into the general education curriculum. Others are working on specific projects for their own classrooms, such as how to use student/faculty co-creation of rubrics to foster self-governance and group decision-making skills.

We’re exploring what happens when you build into the class explicit consideration of how to be a good member of the community,” Bloch-Schulman said.

At Elon, a series of lunchtime workshops for faculty and students attracted interest throughout last academic year, he said. A similar program is planned for this fall, including a reading group that will discuss Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill’s Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms.

The next round of the Elon Research Seminars (2011-2013) will examine the difficulties of transferring what is learned in one context to another, and will be lead by Chris Anson, a university distinguished professor at N.C. State University; Randy Bass, an assistant provost for teaching and learning initiatives at Georgetown University; and Jessie Moore, an associate professor of English at Elon University.